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Be Watchful for Derailing Personality Characteristics (Continued)

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

In our last blog, we alerted readers to the treachery of derailing personality traits, particularly as it relates to leadership. Personality is primarily fixed. Behaviors and personality characteristics, in most cases, begin to work against you and are no longer a strength. Some, however, can be quite detrimental and be derailers to one’s success in a role. Our last blog highlighted bold, cautious, colorful, diligent, and dutiful as potential areas to search for as you assess candidates fit for leadership roles. This blog will alert you to a half dozen more.


Excitable shows up as volatile or moody, someone difficult to please or make happy, or someone easily annoyed. What comes to mind when those are mentioned? Maybe someone that people work around and avoid because they don’t want to deal with the consequences of those behaviors? That’s the trap of this derailer. Often folks with this behavior give themselves a lot of slack and don’t recognize the tremendously negative impact. For example, one senior leader was well known to have big reactions to issues brought to him. He was the Head of Supply Chain for Europe for a Fortune 100 company. In his steady state, he is a great guy. But, when something crossed his path, watch out. While he had great ideas based on his subject matter expertise, he was limited in what he could do because people simply avoided him.

So, as a source for someone who has this tendency as a derailer, here are some questions to assist:

  • What are your hot buttons? How will we know/what will it look like?

  • What is some difficult feedback you have received in the past?

  • If people were to avoid you, what would be the reason?

  • Have you lost your temper in the past? How did you handle this?


Someone who is imaginative brings a different perspective to a conversation…to the extreme. These folks see the world of possibility. They often act in ways that are not typical to the average person. They can be highly distracting. They also can be very frustrating. One CEO notoriously walks into a situation, typically pretty far down a path, and will ask a bunch of questions, get the group off track, and leave them with a list of things to go chase. People find these types of folks exhausting.

Questions to help flush out these extreme tendencies are:

  • Is it better to be good enough, or is it better to flush out every scenario, so you don’t leave anything on the table?

  • If you are going to behave in a way that others might be irritated by, what might you be doing?

  • In your last role/company, who was the idea generator? How were they received?

  • Would you describe yourself as part of the pack or very different and more of a unicorn, and why?


The problem with someone who has the leisurely derailer is passive-aggressive. They appear to be engaged and aligned, but they are frustrated by you or your ideas and are not moving in a supportive way. They are often stubborn-minded and resistors to your change effort. One Head of Sales would appear to be supportive in meetings being pleasant and engaged, but as soon as he walked out of the room, he was caustic and visibly frustrated with the ideas. He did what he could to prevent the momentum rather than enable it.

Some questions to source are:

  • Explain a situation in which someone was more successful at something than you were and how you handled it.

  • What is some feedback you received in the past that you choose not to use?

  • Tell me about one time at work when you said you would do one thing and ended up doing another? What was the situation?

  • Who sets your priorities? If it is someone else, do they do a good job? Would you do a better job? How do you handle that?


Someone who has the derailing behaviors of being mischievous is high-risk folk.They enjoy thrilling and risky endeavors. They look for excitement and push the boundaries. One CEO consistently pushed the limits in extreme sports, professing his love of the adrenalin rush. He often overextended the organization in terms of commitments, including making two acquisitions at one time. He was known to push the limits on the organization's financial health and try to achieve results no one in the industry had achieved but were not accretive to the business. People were worn out with this CEO, and he had a high turnover rate.

Questions that can help source these tendencies are:

  • What do you like to do outside of work? Any sports?

  • How would you describe your risk tolerance level as compared to others?

  • What is something scary you did in the last year that people pushed back on and didn’t think you should do it?

  • Give me an example of when you were the center of attention and why?


Someone who has the reserved derailer is cold, indifferent. They show up with a lack of regard for others and are often considered aloof. The challenge with this component of a personality is it creates distance between people. People don’t lean towards these folks but are somewhat away from them. It limits their effectiveness. One CIO was very cool and aloof to people. He was given a great deal of financial rewards because of his role, but much resentment was built up because of his actions or lack of engagement with others. It negatively impacted the workplace, and others started to disengage.

Questions that can help identify these tendencies are:

  • If I spoke to folks who worked with you, what would they tell me it is like to work with you – the good, the bad, and the ugly?

  • Whose job is it to create and maintain company culture? What have you done in the past to help enable a culture?

  • What type of people do you find frustration?

  • How are you most often misunderstood?


People who have the skeptical quality as a derailer are often quite unpleasant. They are critical, often negative, cynical towards others, and don’t trust many folks. With that said, they are often highly sensitive to being criticized. For example, one executive who heads up several functions in an organization is quite divisive. He sits on calls where people are laughing at a joke and engages positively, and he looks negative. He is caustic with his words and highly critical of others. He works behind the scenes creating problems and is extremely negative. However, it is unsafe for those critical of him because his wrath is fierce. People such as these folks simply cannot exist successfully in an organization.

Questions to source for such traits are:

  • What incites you to anger or frustration?

  • What is an example of a criticism you had of something or someone, and you were right?

  • What is an example of feedback you received that you disagreed with when given?

  • What do people need to do to earn your trust?

Most other derailing personality traits typically can be folded into one of the eleven outlined by the Hogan Assessment. Other caustic and toxic traits that need to be eliminated are ones such as someone who argues all the time or someone who simply cannot immerse themselves into other people’s experiences/lacks any interpersonal sensitivity. Another major concern is someone who has a tremendous fear of failure or someone who is an extreme perfectionist. Someone impulsive makes for a difficult work environment, and of course, someone who is narcissistic is a true detriment to the workplace.

These and the ones mentioned below are destructive traits. You will not change them. If you see a pattern of behavior such as what has been identified in this and the prior blog, you would be best served to eliminate that person from your organization. Their impact is cancerous and erodes the health of your organization. While that may seem extreme, I can tell you story after story where it has been the case. The best thing to do is to become vigilant in seeking out these tendencies during the interview process and not bring them into the organization. If you have brought them in, be sure not to promote them into leadership positions if any of these derailers are present and prevalent, as it will multiply the negative impact these people can have.

In the next installment of this personality series, we will examine the criteria people look for in leaders revealed through three studies on determining leadership potential.


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